I’m Dreaming of Some Cured Pig’s Cheeks – Perciatelli Al’amatriciana

Perciatelli Alamatricia

I’ve just died and gone to heaven. I just cooked with guanciale (cured pigs jowels/cheeks). I just ate guanciale while sitting back on my couch in my crowded, rent-is-just-too-damn-high apartment watching TV. If only every night could be like this.

If you read our blog (or know us personally) you will know how important Italy is in our lives. We were engaged in Rome and married in Tuscany. Because of our wedding, we ended up spending a total of almost 6 weeks all over Italy starting with our engagement in May, 2006 until our wedding in June, 2007. It has a very big place in our hearts and our stomachs! I think we each gained nine or ten pounds during our three week wedding/honeymoon this past summer. And I do not care that I probably still have not lost all of it. We ate two large meals a day and always had wine with our lunch, there ain’t any amount of walking that’s gonna melt those calories away.

One of our favorite places to eat while in Rome is right across the river from our favorite Roman neighborhood to stay in, Trastevere. We take the short walk across the Tiber to the Jewish Ghetto and up the building stairs to Al Pompiere. Al Pompiere is frequented by locals as well as smart tourists (you should not see any sneakers, oversized t-shirts or fanny/bum bag-wearing toolbags). Their food is very tradional Jewish-Roman cuisine. They have excellent Fried Artichokes and we’ve tasted about 6 of their pastas – all excellent. But, this is where we first tried Bucatini Al’amatriciana – a classic pasta dish from Lazio. It is named after a small town called Amatrice. Supposedly there are different ways to prepare this dish. In Amatrice they do not use onions, but in other areas you will taste them in the dish. Purists do not add garlic and purists would also only use guanciale. I love garlic and guanciale is often difficult to find in the States, so you can choose to be a purist or not. I’ve read others make this dish here in America with pancetta (next best thing to guanciale) or bacon (I guess it’s the second best thing to guanciale). Personally, after eating this dish in Italy many times and now creating it myself with guanciale, I can not imagine substituting it with anything else. I think I’m officially an Al’amatriciana snob, but maybe that’s because the last 4 times I’ve eaten this dish has been with guanciale.

Guanciale nicely wrapped upAfter our honeymoon, I decided to (sneakily) smuggle a 3/4 pound slab of guanciale in my suitcase back to the US. At the airport, we had on our best “no, we don’t have any meat products in our possession” faces while we got through customs. But that was 6 months ago. The beautiful pig cheek slab has sat in our freezer in shrinkwrapped plastic waiting until the day was right to bring smiles to our faces and our guts. We couldn’t resist any longer – we finally ripped it open and created a pretty bang-on variation of the dish we ate many times in Italy. I know hands – down it was the guanciale. GOD BLESS PIGS JOWLS!

But, readers, PLEASE don’t think this dish wouldn’t be absolutely delicious without guanciale and with pancetta. It just may not have that specific rich, porky flavor that the pig cheeks have. We have about 1/2 of our slab left, so after one more meal 1/2 it will sadly be gone forever. Until my local butcher starts selling it, I will too be making this with pancetta.

PERCIATELLI (OR SPAGHETTI/BUCATINI) AL’AMATRICIANA

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound cured pigs cheeks (guanciale) or pancetta, thinly sliced
  • 2 onions very thinly sliced (use a mandolin if available)
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 1/2 cups Amy’s Tomato Sauce (see below)
  • 1 pound perciatelli, bucatini or spaghetti

What to do:

  1. Reheat your Tomato Sauce, keep warmed on low.
  2. Take your sliced guanciale or pancetta and cook on both sides on medium to medium-low. You want to just render some of the fat, not completely crisp up. After a few minutes, take the strips out and let drain on a paper towel. DO NOT THROW OUT ALL THE RENDERED FAT! Put most in separate bowl, keeping about 1-2 tablespoons in the pan.
  3. On medium-low heat, throw in your thinly sliced onions and slow cook these in the rendered guanciale/pancetta fat. This process could take up to 25-30minutes to sweat them down, but it’s WORTH it. The sweetness of the onions when cooked this way can not be duplicated without slow cooking them. You want to make sure you keep stirring them every once in awhile. Add more rendered pork fat if the onions look like they need it.
  4. Boil water for your pasta. Add your pasta to cook.
  5. Meanwhile, when guanciale/pancetta is cool enough to handle, cut into chunks about 1 inch long by 1/2 inch wide pieces.
  6. Add the garlic to the pan and then the guanciale/pancetta pieces. Allow to cook along with the onions for 3 minutes. Continue to stir.
  7. Add 1 1/2 cup of pasta sauce to the pan. Stir the sauce.
  8. Drain pasta, reserving a few tablespoons of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the pan along with the pasta water. Toss with the sauce. Add more tomato sauce if necessary — remember never to oversauce your pasta!
  9. Allow to cook in the pan on low for a minute and then add pecorino. Toss and serve! Sprinkle some parsley on top for some green.

AMY’S TOMATO SAUCE (makes 3 1/2 cups):

  • 1 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes (san marzano preferred)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced and 2 cloves garlic, smashed w/ back of a knife
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • 4-5 basil leaves, torn
  • peperoncino (optional)

What to do:

  1. Saute your onions in olive oil until slightly soft (4 minutes).
  2. Add your minced garlic and saute for another minute or so.
  3. Add the can of crushed tomatoes and stir. Add one teaspoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt and the crushed garlic allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes. The flavors will reduce together. Add peperoncino if you want a spicier sauce. Finish sauce with a little bit of olive oil and stir in torn basil leaves.

23 thoughts on “I’m Dreaming of Some Cured Pig’s Cheeks – Perciatelli Al’amatriciana

  1. oh my goodness you just reminded me of my trip to Italy!! trastevere was my favorite place. i hope you got the tartufo!!! and this is one of my mom’s signature dishes. she uses pancetta from the import store in howard beach, but once of my favorites that she makes.

  2. I’m going to try the restaurant you name here. I’m staying at the Domus Praetoria which is only 3 miles away. Is there anything I need to know about it?

    (I’m visiting in a few weeks, after a transatlantic cruise.)

  3. Hey, Chris Cardinal (love your name…it’s one of those names you want to say all at once). You LUCKY LUCKY man. You get to go to Rome soon. I’m so jealous. We absolutely love that city and have been fortunate to stay there a few times over the past year. The only thing you really need to know about Al Pompiere is to look at the address and remember it b/c there’s not much by way of a sign depending on which way you come upon the building. The main entrance is actually a set of doors (that almost look like it’s going into a store) and the menu is on the wall and you have to go up a set of stairs to get to the restaurant. If you’re planning on going on a weekend, you may want reservations. Most speak some English there. GET THE FRIED ARTICHOKE! Oh, and if you’re up for it, get the pasta with the black truffle sauce. Whoa, it’s sinfully delicious. But all their food is excellent (to us!). If you have any more questions, please don’t hesitate to leave us another comment – we’ll email you back individually. Let us know what you think when you get back.

    amy @ we are never full

  4. Thanks for the reply, Amy.
    I actually wrote a short little entry on a site I frequent called MetaFilter about Guanciale and all that because I had found an entry on Tastespotting awhile ago. I’ve sadly never got to try it myself, so that’ll be the first order of business at this place. I’m just glad I don’t have to hunt for it now!

    I’ll definitely let you know how it goes; I’ll be there May 10-13th.

  5. We’re leaving today to Miami and from there, the cruise which’ll end in Rome. I’ve pasted your instructions and the directions to the restaurant.

    I love that I’m able to read something interesting about a dish on the internet, then find someone else’s post with a recommendation for a specific restaurant that’s not 3 clicks away from the hotel I’m staying at (which was also a net recommendation).

    Great technology, this. I’ll let you know how it goes; we’ll be there in the May 10-12 range.

    Cheers,

    –Chris

  6. have a wonderful time!! Oh I’m jealous. go in with an open mind and a good old hunger and there’s no way it can disappoint! it is amazing, the technology, huh? crazy… have a blast.

  7. Amy, I was at my local Italian specialty store the other day and they had homemade guanciale! They found a guy that makes it locally and started carrying it in the store. I almost fainted when I saw it! I grabbed some and made your amatriciana recipe. There is only one word to describe it. Sublime! Thank you so much for the recipe. The last time I had something this wonderful was when I was in Rome 5 years ago!

  8. Hey, Susan… NO WAY. I’m JEALOUS. Where do you live? If it’s w/in 5 hours driving distance from NYC, I may be up for a road trip! Thank you so much for making our recipe. I didn’t use a recipe, so it makes me feel good that someone else made what i made from scratch and liked it! YAY. We still have a little bit of guanciale left so me’s thinks I want to make it again! ahhhh, rome.

  9. Ooh, that pasta dish sure looks tasty! Now, if I can book a flight to Rome. . .

    Our local supermarket sells pig jowls sliced really thin. The intended purpose is for these slices of jowls to end up in a hotpot. They’re not cured though.

    Oh well, I’m just dreaming of pig cheeks after reading this. Pig cheeks, beef cheeks, veal cheeks, fish cheeks — all these are delicious.

  10. i had baffo della umbria (guanciale fried with vinegar and sage) a couple weeks back. it was a religious experience. im in my last week in rome, will make a visit to Al Pompiere. thanks for sharing.

  11. Wow, Amit. I am now heavily researching this one. You may have helped inspire my next guanciale recipe. Let’s hope to keep it b/w me and you until then. Sounds amazing. Thank you for the idea – it sounds like a religious experience to me!

  12. Since you are makin me nutzo with descriptions of this recipe here are some places in New York that may have the stuff you seek, guanciale. Good luck, just give them a call.

    Park Slope
    814 Union St.
    at 7th Avenue

    P: 718.230.3180

    Chelsea
    Chelsea Market
    75 Ninth Ave.
    between W.15th/16th Sts.

    P: 212.633.9090

    Upper West Side
    2127 Broadway
    at W. 74th St.

    P: 212.595.1888

  13. Looks like I never got back to this. I went to Al Pompiere. It was phenomenal. I still talk about it, four years later. I’ve sent my good friend there. I sent my brother with his new girlfriend there. All have raved.

    And today, I found a local (to Phoenix) supplier of homemade Guanciale, so I’m looking to try my hand at this tomorrow. Another Italian grocer had bucatini, so I’m all set, just trying to figure what’s closest to authentic Al Pompiere-style. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I also tried the fried artichokes… I have never found another matching it. Spoiled for life.

    1. @Chris: thanks for coming back after all these years! We know what you mean though, that place really is the business. We first ate there in May 2006 and we’re still raving about it now too! The artichokes are sublime. We’ve never had any as good here either. I think US artichokes aren’t picked young enough. Enjoy your local guanciale!

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